Dear Crucial Skills,
I’m a new member on a team. I find that when I wish my teammates good morning, they do not respond. Since I’m new and trying to learn, I occasionally ask questions of one of my teammates. When I do, she typically responds, “Go ask so-and-so,” rather than helping me. Another teammate cuts me off when I ask questions. I am unable to finish my question or ask clarifying questions. I need help communicating with this team. Any suggestions?
I’m going to make a big assumption in responding to you. I’m going to assume that your teammates are reasonable, rational, and decent people. I’ll also assume they are imperfect, subject to misjudgment, harried and impatient at times. In other words, I’m going to assume that they are kind of like you and me.
Unlike many inquiries to Crucial Skills, you are not describing a concern with a single individual. You’re describing consistent behavior across multiple teammates. It’s possible that you just happen to have a bunch of brusque colleagues. But before concluding that, I’d urge you to entertain another possibility. If multiple people are responding to you in what you see as similarly dismissive ways, the common variable is you.
One of the first principles of interpersonal effectiveness is Work on Me First. This isn’t a principle of self-abuse. It’s a principle of self-empowerment. It doesn’t suggest that you let others mistreat you. What it counsels us to do is scrutinize the human tendency to tell victim and villain stories. When others behave in ways we don’t like, the natural human response is to tell ourselves a mental story that showcases our virtues and absolves us of responsibility for the problem. “I’m new on the team, so of course I have a lot of needs!” “I say good morning to colleagues like polite people do!” “I ask a lot of questions because I am a humble and dutiful employee!” Etc., etc. By so doing, we make ourselves out to be innocent victims of the mistreatment of others.
The second dangerous tendency we have is to villainize the other person. We collect grievances and ignore exceptions. I notice every time my morning greeting is not reciprocated but dismiss the times that it is. I lock onto the times my question isn’t answered and ignore the times it is.
The best advice I can offer is to work on yourself first. Challenge the story you’re telling yourself. For example, ask:
- Am I being insensitive in the timing of my questions?
- Am I over-asking rather than figuring things out on my own?
- Have I given offense somehow?
- Have I come across as needy, high-maintenance and demanding?
- Have I built a reputation of being low-maintenance and high-value add, or the reverse?
My guess is if you soberly examine these and similar questions, you’ll find room for improvement. And if my initial assumption is correct—that your coworkers are reasonable, rational, and decent people—they will begin to respond to you differently as you sincerely work on improving.
I wish you all the best,